Q: My wife talks baby talk to Sally, our Yorkshire terrier. It drives me crazy, and I’m certain Sally thinks she’s nuts. How can I get her to speak normally to our dog?
A: I’m not sure Sally would appreciate the change. Recent studies show that dogs of all ages prefer what researchers call “dog-directed speech” to adult-directed speech.
Dog-directed speech is similar to infant-directed speech in that both are characterized by high-pitched sounds that rise and fall, and exaggerated facial expressions. In infant-directed speech, vowel sounds also are strongly articulated to help babies acquire language skills.
Researchers tested dogs of various ages with combinations of dog-directed speech, adult-directed speech, dog-relevant words and words that held no meaning to the dogs. They found that the dogs paid the closest attention to dog-relevant words spoken in dog-directed speech patterns.
They surmised that this style of speech might lose its effectiveness if used all the time, but that it would increase the efficiency of training if used at those times. Overall, researchers believe dog-directed speech enhances the bond between dog and human.
Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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